The forex market is the largest financial market in the world. Trading in the forex is not done at one central location but is conducted between participants by phone and electronic communication networks (ECNs) in various markets around the world.
The market is open 24 hours a day in different parts of the world, from 5 p.m. EST on Sunday until 4 p.m. EST on Friday. At any point in time, there is at least one market open, and there are a few hours of overlap between one region's market closing and another opening. The international scope of currency trading means there are always traders across the globe who are making and meeting demands for a particular currency.
Currency is also needed around the world for international trade, by central banks, and global businesses. Central banks have particularly relied on foreign-exchange markets since 1971 when fixed-currency markets ceased to exist because the gold standard was dropped. Since that time, most international currencies have been "floated" rather than tied to the value of gold.
- The forex market is open 24 hours a day in different parts of the world, from 5 p.m. EST on Sunday until 4 p.m. EST on Friday.
- The ability of the forex to trade over a 24-hour period is due in part to different international time zones.
- Forex trading opens daily with the Australasia area, followed by Europe, and then North America.
- As one region's markets close another opens, or has already opened, and continues to trade in the forex market.
The Reasoning Behind Around-the-Clock Trading
The ability of the forex market to trade over a 24-hour period is due in part to different international time zones, and the fact trades are conducted over a network of computers rather than any one physical exchange that closes at a particular time. For instance, when you hear that the U.S. dollar closed at a certain rate, it simply means that was the rate at market close in New York. That is because currency continues to be traded around the world long after New York's close, unlike securities.
Securities such as domestic stocks, bonds, and commodities are not as relevant or in need on the international stage and thus are not required to trade beyond the standard business day in the issuer's home country. The demand for trade in these markets is not high enough to justify opening 24 hours a day due to the focus on the domestic market, meaning that it is likely that few shares would be traded at 3 a.m. in the U.S.
The amount that is traded on the forex market each day.
Europe is comprised of major financial centers such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Zurich. Banks, institutions, and dealers all conduct forex trading for themselves and their clients in each of these markets.
Every day of forex trading starts with the opening of the Australasia area, followed by Europe, and then North America. As one region's markets close another opens, or has already opened, and continues to trade in the forex market. These markets will often overlap for a few hours, providing some of the most active periods of forex trading.
For example, if a forex trader in Australia wakes up at 3 a.m. and wants to trade currency, they will be unable to do so through forex dealers located in Australasia, but they can make as many trades as they want through European or North American dealers.
The forex market can be split into three main regions: Australasia, Europe, and North America, with several major financial centers within each of these main areas.
Understanding Forex Market Hours
International currency markets are made up of banks, commercial companies, central banks, investment management firms, hedge funds, as well as retail forex brokers and investors around the world. Because this market operates in multiple time zones, it can be accessed at any time except for the weekend break.
The international currency market isn't dominated by a single market exchange but involves a global network of exchanges and brokers around the world. Forex trading hours are based on when trading is open in each participating country. While the timezones overlap, the generally accepted timezone for each region are as follows:
- New York 8am to 5pm EST (1pm to 10pm UTC)
Tokyo 7pm to 4am EST (12am to 9am UTC)
Sydney 5pm to 2am EST (10pm to 7am UTC)
London 3am to 12 noon EST (8pm to 5pm UTC)
The two busiest time zones are London and New York. The period when these two trading sessions overlap (London afternoon and New York morning) is the busiest period and accounts for the majority of volume traded in the $5 trillion a day market. It is during this period where the Reuters/WMR benchmark spot foreign exchange rate is determined. The rate, which is set at 4pm London time is used for daily valuation and pricing for many money managers and pension funds.
While the forex market is a 24-hour market, some currencies in several emerging markets, are not traded 24 hours a day. The seven most traded currencies in the world are the U.S. dollar, the Euro, the Japanese yen, the British pound, and the Australian dollar, the Canadian Dollar, and the New Zealand Dollar, all of which are traded continuously while the forex market is open.
Speculators typically trade in pairs crossing between these seven currencies from any country in the world, though they favor times with heavier volume. When trading volumes are heaviest forex brokers will provide tighter spreads (bid and ask prices closer to each other), which reduces transaction costs for traders. Likewise institutional traders also favor times with higher trading volume, though they may accept wider spreads for the opportunity to trade as early as possible in reaction to new information they have.
Despite the highly decentralized nature of the forex market it remains an efficient transfer mechanism for all participants and a far-reaching access mechanism for those who wish to speculate from anywhere on the globe.
Price Swings in the FOREX
Economic and political instability and infinite other perpetual changes also affect the currency markets. Central banks seek to stabilize their country's currency by trading it on the open market and keeping a relative value compared to other world currencies. Businesses that operate in multiple countries seek to mitigate the risks of doing business in foreign markets and hedge currency risk.
Businesses enter into currency swaps to hedge risk, which gives them the right but not necessarily the obligation to buy a set amount of foreign currency for a set price in another currency at a date in the future. They are limiting their exposure to large fluctuations in currency valuations through this strategy.
The Bottom Line
Currency is a global necessity for central banks, international trade, and global businesses, and therefore requires a 24-hour market to satisfy the need for transactions across various time zones. In sum, it's safe to assume that there is no point during the trading week that a participant in the forex market will not potentially be able to make a currency trade.
[Note: If you're interested in day trading in the forex market, Investopedia's Forex Trading For Beginners course provides an excellent introduction to day trading to help you get started on the right foot.]